WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a trip to the Middle East in July, breaking his campaign promise to make the kingdom a “pariah” as it struggles to fight against a record Gasoline prices in the United States.
Within weeks of taking office, Biden shifted US policy toward Saudi Arabia, taking a tougher stance on the kingdom’s human rights record and in particular the killing and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018. US intelligence implicated the prince in the murder. The Saudi government has denied any involvement on his part.
Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, had a close relationship with the prince, the country’s de facto ruler. But while running for president in 2019, Biden pledged to ensure Saudi Arabia would ‘pay the price and make her, in effect, the pariah that she is’ for the murder. by Khashoggi. The White House said just this month that Biden’s view had not changed.
The talks with the crown prince – part of Biden’s first trip to the region – are seen by rights advocates as running counter to his promise to put human rights at the heart of US foreign policy. Biden’s trip from July 13 to July 16 will also include a stopover in Israel and the occupied West Bank.
A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that if Biden “determines that it is in his interest to engage with a particular leader, and if such engagement can yield results, then he will do it”.
The official pointed to the crown prince’s role in securing an extension of a UN-brokered truce between Yemen’s warring parties as an example of what he said was the need to engage with Saudi Arabia as a way to help bring peace and security to the region.
Biden’s July 15-16 visit to the kingdom comes after the OPEC+ group of oil-producing nations, led by Saudi Arabia, agreed to boost oil production to compensate for Russian losses – following Western sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine – and combating soaring oil prices and inflation.
Washington’s desire to improve relations with the Gulf monarchies took on added urgency after Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, which underscored the relevance of Gulf oil producers as the Europe is seeking to reduce its energy dependence on Russia.
The United States is also trying to further isolate Russia over the war in Ukraine, urging Gulf states to publicly condemn Moscow, three Western diplomats have said. The Gulf states have so far tried to maintain what they say is a neutral stance, but some Western diplomats see this as siding with Moscow.
Biden will meet with regional leaders including Iraq, Egypt and Jordan in Saudi Arabia as part of a Gulf Cooperation Council summit, the White House said. Washington has proposed an agenda that includes regional security, food security, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and energy issues, a Gulf source familiar with the matter said.
In Israel on July 13 and 14, Biden will highlight America’s commitment to the country, which includes billions of dollars in military support. He will hold a virtual summit with the leaders of Israel, India and the United Arab Emirates.
Biden will also travel to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other leaders to reaffirm his commitment to a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians, the US official said.
The visit will contribute to “Israel’s integration in the Middle East”, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia has signaled its support for the so-called Abraham Accords under which the UAE and Bahrain forged relations with Israel two years ago. But Riyadh stopped short of officially recognizing neighboring Israel.